Sunday, March 27, 2011: “God thirsts that we may thirst for him”

A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 27, 2011 | Carl E. Olson

• Ex. 17:3-7
• Psa. 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
• Rom. 5:1-2, 5-8
• Jn. 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42

It was a conversation that should not have taken place; it was a conversation started by God’s thirst.

St. John wrote that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” (Jn. 4:4). Samaria was indeed located between Judea and Galilee, but most Jews avoided going through it, traveling instead around the eastern edge of the region. The “had to,” then, suggests a divine imperative. Traveling to and through Samaria was part of the Messiah’s mission; it had to be done.

But why? After all, the Samaritans and Jews had a deeply intense dislike for one another. The Samaritans claimed to be descendents of the patriarch Joseph, but they were most likely a mixed population, the offspring of Israelites who had not been deported to Assyria during the exile and various Mesopotamian peoples. They identified themselves as true observers of the Mosaic law; the name “Samaritan” is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “keeper” of the law. The Samaritan, put simply, was the half-breed sibling who had no place at the family table and whose existence was only acknowledged in insult (cf. Jn. 8:48).

The Samaritan woman, when told by Jesus to give him a drink, made a reply reflecting this animosity. But it also revealed her understanding that Jewish men did not, under any circumstances, talk to Samaritan women. (In addition, the Jews were known to say that to drink Samaritan water was worse than drinking pig’s blood!) It was, again, a conversation that shouldn’t have taken place. But God was thirsty—for souls. 

Jesus, as he did so often, used a physical, temporal need to get to the root of the spiritual problem. “Whenever Our Lord wished to do a favor,” wrote Archbishop Fulton Sheen of this encounter, “He always begins by asking for one.” At first, his questions seemed intrusive, even rude, but in the end they opened the door to the answer. Jesus suggested the answer when hinting at his identity (“If you knew … who is saying to you…”). But the woman, likely both perplexed and curious, was focused on the practical, material challenge at hand: the need for a bucket, the depth of the well.

Her small world was a failing mixture of moral laxity, legal rigidity, and ethnic discord. She had little in common with upright, ethnically and ritually pure Jews. This woman, wrote St. Augustine, “who bore the type of the church, comes from strangers, for the church was to come from the Gentiles, an alien from the race of the Jews.” Therefore, the great Doctor explained, we must recognize who this woman is. She is us; she is everyone who is in desperate need of the living water. “In that woman, then, let us hear ourselves,” wrote Augustine, “and in her acknowledge ourselves and in her give thanks to God for ourselves.”

Whatever her faults, the Samaritan woman was neither hard-headed nor hard-hearted. She quickly realized that Jesus unique. She soon identified him as a prophet; she then said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Very aware of the Pentateuch, the essential sacred text for Samaritans, she expected a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15) who would perfectly explain and live the Law. Even in the midst of a messy, immoral life, she believed the Messiah was coming.

What is striking, in relation to Lent, is the Samaritan woman’s amazed statement to the people of the town: “Come see a man who has told me everything I have done.” Through prayer, fasting, and repentance, we come closer to the man who knows everything about us: our sins, our needs, our hopes, our fears. “The wonder of prayer,” remarks the Catechism, “is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being.” Why does he meet us? Why does he start the conversation? Because he is thirsty: “God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (par. 2560).

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the March 7, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
This entry was posted in Bible Exegesis and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s